Landowners in Belmont County, OH, which has become a hotbed of activity for prospective shale exploration, are signing leases with ExxonMobil Corp. subsidiary XTO Energy Inc. to allow drilling to begin on their acreage, the company has acknowledged.

XTO earlier this month secured leases in Belmont County with several landowners on acreage acquired in June (see Shale Daily, June 10). ExxonMobil paid $1.69 billion to acquire privately held Phillips Resources Inc. and TWP Inc., which included 317,000 net acres in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale, as well as prospective property in Michigan, Ohio and West Virginia.

Belmont County, which is on the Pennsylvania border, has drawn a significant number of big producers. Although some news reports said the leases obtained by XTO were in the Utica Shale, Belmont is primarily Marcellus Shale acreage, surrounded by Utica and Marcellus targets, according to data from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (see Shale Daily, Sept. 15).

XTO’s lease agreements were disclosed by The Intelligencer in West Virginia. According to the newspaper, landowners were paid as much as $4,950/acre and 19% for royalties. The exact amount of acreage leased was not disclosed, but an attorney who helped to arrange the transactions said the amount was “substantial.” Another signing session may be held, contingent upon demand, he said.

Hess Corp. earlier this month acquired leasing rights on almost 185,000 net acres in the Ohio portion of the Marcellus and Utica shales, including Belmont County, in two deals (see Shale Daily, Sept. 9; Sept. 8).

CONSOL Energy Corp., which partnered with Hess in one of the deals this month, is one of the largest leaseholders in Ohio. Last November CONSOL announced its first discovery in Belmont County, with a 8,450-foot vertical well that flowed at 1.4 MMcf over 24 hours (see Shale Daily, Aug. 3; Nov. 1, 2010).